Chief John Salka recently posted a blog entitled "Transitional Attack is Whack".   The blog and quite a few replies can be found at


I have a great deal of respect for Chief Salka, his experience, and his expertise, but I believe that his description of "Transitional Attack is Whack" is neither complete or accurate.  From the article, I don't think that Chief Salka shows a complete understanding of what a Transitional Attack really is, when to employ it, or how to coordinate it.  He didn't discuss any of the issues of modern fuel loads, todays hotter, faster fires, lightweight engineered residential construction, or long-span open architecture that can indicate the need for a Transitional attack.  He also didn't mention the lack of manpower that many fire departments face, but that wasn't an issue during his career with FDNY.


It's pretty basic. A quick burst with a straight stream from the exterior isn't going to make a bunch of steam, it's not going to push fire anywhere, and for departments who don't have big-city quantities of firefighters arriving on the first alarm, it may be the ONLY alternative to standing there doing nothing until enough firefighters arrive to mount an interior attack.  Appropriate training, well-disciplined firefighters, good size-up, and appropriate Command decisions will keep the exterior part of Transitional attacks, short, sweet, and to the point. 


For those departments without the initial manpower to mount an interior attack, the fire keeps eating at the structure...not a good thing as we all know.  It isn't necessary to stand frozen in the yard aiming the stream at the ceiling.  What IS nececessary is to avoid fog streams, and to avoid continuing the exterior part of the Transitional attack after there is a quick knock on flashover venting to the exterior - usually through a window.


Now about that lightweight, engineered construction - something that is rare in NYC but that is common in a lot of other places... With fires in the void spaces, unsupported long spans over the open downstairs in SFDs, and the differing air flows in current construction just don't make the fire behave in the same way as it does to the legacy, multi-residential construction with which Chief Salka is most familiar. The variables - and the rules - are simply different anywhere with lightweight engineered construction.  Add response delays, low manpower, and/or water supply limitations, and you have a situation that may call for a Transitional attack as a terrific initial company operation.

In lightweight engineered construction, early structural collapse is much more likely than in legacy construction due to engineering being substituted for structural mass. Structural mass resists fire. Engineered trusses, glue-lam, or OSB I-beams do not. In those cases, entering beneath self-venting fire is essentially a well-intentioned suicide attempt. Basic fire cause and origin classes tell us that in engineered construction, the largest volume of fire is where the fire has been burning the longest and thus, where the structure is most compromised. Hitting that fire from the exterior can often be the ONLY way to prevent that early collapse.

We should be past the point where we only have one way to do things, particularly where the variables are so different.  We shouldn't ridicule scientific studies, particularly when those studies are backed up with real-world experience from those who actually applied those techniques a long time before they were studied scientifically.  Transitional attacks have been discussed in firefighting textbooks as far back as 20 years ago, and were used in some places before that.

The problems Chief Salka describes with hitting the fire from the outside are not problems that arise from a true Transitional attack. They are problems that arise when the firefighters pass "Transitional" and go to "Defensive".   Using the wrong nozzle pattern is a bad thing whether done from inside or outside, and putting water into a room after knockdown is also a bad thing regardless of whether its done from inside or outside.

True Transitional attacks won't have an outside line hit the fire as an interior line is reaching the fire room - the FIRST line will hit the fire before another line is stretched.  In most cases the exterior line will be moved to the interior before the manpower to stretch the second line is even on scene.  If not, there's a simple way to avoid opposing lines - the miracle of radio communications and the interior company officer carrying a TIC and paying attention to interior conditions will take care of that.

Then there are the hotter fires, more rapid firespread, and earlier flashover caused by the high fuel loads from polymers, artificial fabrics, and foam-filled furniture.  Every SFD with those fuels is essentially a smal version of the Sofa Super Store fire waiting to happen.


Case in point - a couple of years ago, I was the first-due chief on a lighweight engineered construction SFD, pictured above.  (Photo taken prior to FD arrival.)  This fire was well involved from a lighting strike, a delayed alarm, and subsequent electrical arcing throughout. The A-B corner was already collapsing from fire damage when an engine, a medic unit, and I arrived. The fire was extending to the Bravo exposure. Two members of the engine stretched a handline and protected the exposure, one of the medic members caught the hydrant and charged the supply line, and the second medic member used the deck pipe with a solid stream to knock down the main body of fire. Two (later-arriving) additional engines took handlines 2 and 3 in from Side Charlie, and a truck went with them to search and to open ceilings to ensure that no fire that might attack structural integrity was passed. Fire driven into the structure - Zero. Additional structural collapse - Zero. Victims steamed - Zero. (there were none, but the viable parts of the structure were kept viable by a controlled Transitional attack.)

For those who who claim that those of us who advocate for the situational use of Transitional attacks probably haven't "taken the heat in a hallway" lately, I agree.  The lightweight, engineered construction buildings I'm discussing don't HAVE hallways.


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He is a chief with the FDNY. The FDNY is one of the best staffed fire departments in the country. He is writing from his point of view and I agree 100% with Chief Salka. Some of you are so hypocritical with your posts. You get upset and complain about how he doesn't understand small departments. Well he DOES NOT work for a small department


The reality is that Chief Salka is also paid to travel the country and speak to other FFs, so for him to rely soley upon the staffing and resources he sees with his dept should be questioned. For him to arbitraly dismiss such a tactic doesn't account for the differences or disparity in staffing and resources of his readers. While he doesn't work for a small dept, he is also tasked as a fire service expert, a frequently published commentator, has a blog, and gets paid to speak to other FFs.......this means his opinion thus do go beyond the world of his dept alone.


Another issue is how he so easily dismisses the science and studies based upon his own experiences. The reality is I have personally seen this tactic used and the effectiveness of should my experiences hold less weight than Chief Salka's who dismisses the tactic? Do you get the point here? If this was me giving an opinion, then my resources, staffing and experience should be questioned.....then again, I also do not travel the country speaking to FFs in all sorts of depts and diversity of resourcs and staffing as Chief Salka does. So if I debunked such a tactic and studies as non-chalantly as Chief Salka, shouldn't my opinion thus be questioned?


Chief Salka used the "because I said so" approach to debunking such studies, yet that doesn't negate the science, the numbers, and evidence of such studies. Whereas Ben and FETC did do a better job of putting this tactic into perspective, something to which Chief Salka did not and has missed the opportunity.


Taking things personally SHOULD absolutely be done. It is imperative of a good FF to look at the whole picture rather than the opinions of a single person (despite their experience and how renowned they are) when making such a decision. I question Chief Salka here no more, or less, than as some bigger city FFs would question Chief Brunacini.


I would not hesitate to word for Chief Salka, I respect him and hold him in high regard, I disagree with his opinion here and believe he misses the point. A transitional attack has a time and place and is a tactic to which his facts are skewed in his opinion. Yet such studies do NOT say this is how things should be Chief Salka attests to and a transitional attack is another tool and tactic that has a time and place and use....just like positive pressure attack. To arbitrarily dismiss either is a disservice and that is why I question Chief Salka now.

That's not accurate.  You were not attacked.  I pointed out that you made an inaccurate statement and gave examples.


When you (or Chief Salka, or anyone else) makes absolute statements, all it takes to disprove the accuracy of that statment is to show one exception.  I showed more than one exception, starting with a well-known, post-knockdown collapse, the Vendome Hotel collapse.  That collapse, BTW, is not only a classic fire service case study, it occurred in a well-staffed, big city FD.


When someone makes statements that don't define any variables, it should not only be OK to point out that different variables change the validity of those statements, it should be expected...thus this post and following replies. 


The bottom line is that there are obviously times when a Transitional Attack is the best choice, there are building types and fire states that make it the best choice, and extinguishing the fire in the fastest way possible is not always the best option, nor does it completely remove danger from ANY fire scene.  It usually removes one kind of danger. 


Belive it or not, there are times when letting the fire burn is better than extinguishing it - i.e. hazmat fires where complete combustion removes the chemical hazard while fighting the fire spreads it by the generation of thousands of gallons of contaminated runoff.

A problem with some of your posts (and with Chief Salka's article) is that when the poster doesn't specify any of the variables, there is no way for the reader to tell what you're really talking about.  When you post things as if they are absolute (i.e. "Fire Out = No Danger" or "Transitional Attack is Whack") it doesn't take a long discussion of some of the different variables in other places to make it pretty obvious that those posts have obvious inaccuracies. 


Training and experience is great - if it's pertinent to a specific set of variables.  Applying the wrong training and experience to a scene with a different set of variables can kill firefighters for no reason except that they trusted what someone said on the internet.


Leading people down the path of less-than-accurate oversimplifications and absolute statements that don't apply to all situations isn't appropriate.  As the responses to Chief Salka's blog and here show, there are quite a few people that understand that.

When someone makes statements that don't define any variables, it should not only be OK to point out that different variables change the validity of those statements, it should be expected...thus this post and following replies.


I agree,

It is also imperative for the reader to also question such opinions and not accept them as gospel. Chief Salka misses the mark here, there absolutely is a time, place, technique for such a tactic. It is not the be all end Chief Salka alludes to as though that is what these studies suggest, but it is up to the reader to look at the bigger picture before accepting such opinion as gospel.

Agreed. I wish there could be one size fits all firefighting tactics, because that would mean the citizens we serve would have the proper staffing for the best service.

The way I see it you're doing exactly what he wants people to do when he delivers a lecture.... think. He obviously got you thinking and the way I read you discussion, I would say he put you on track. Tactics on the fire scene are based on the given situation at the time and not all situations are alike.

I disagree.

If one reads the blog post, this wasn't some insight into thinking about the approach, it was a blatant dismissmal of the tactic as well as the information from the studies. Despite the fact that there were several experiments conducted over and over on how such a tactic "pushes" the fire and yet consistently debunked by empirical data.....Chief Salka dismisses this as "I've seen it" type of thing.


It is one thing if you are looking to create a thought process and to encourage thinking and training and so forth, but I would say Chief Salka misses the mark on this one. When you so easily dismiss such a tactic, it doesn't creat an atmospere in which one wants to learn, instead it creates a debate on aggressive FF vs a "safety sally" approach as opposed to research to create an informed opinion. Whereas when looking in contrast with that blog and this thread, you can see the difference in the approach, this thread does expand on the research, discusses how such a tactic should be used, how it is used and how it contrasts with the opinion of Salka. So in reality which viewpoint encourages discussion and research and which one creates an ultimatum?? 

Actually, I've been using transitional attacks for well over 3 decades, along with offensive attacks, defensive attacks, and some "no attack" exposure protection jobs.


I didn't have to think much to know that his "because I said so" dismissal of a tactic that has proven value wasn't designed to make people think.  His statements don't withstand basic comparisons to either the scientific studies and the real-world experience of firefighters who are advocates of transitional attacks when the situation calls for it.




I was at an ISO class last week and the transitional attack was brought up during one of the breaks. Our instructor said he read the studies and in every single one of them when using a transitional attack, there was absolutly zero air movement throughout the house and the temperatures of all the rooms had a noticeable drop.

Obviously, doing a transitional attack must be done right to be effective, just like any other fireground tactic. Some departments may use it and find it effective while others may not use it at all.

The important thing is that departments need to use what works best for them and makes them the most efficient. There is such a wide variance on sizes and types of departments and coverage areas that many tactics that work for one department don't for another. With departments ranging in size from the FDNY with a few thousand personnel and running thousands of calls each year to a department in my area that is one square mile and has about 8-10 people, we can't expect every tactic/strategy to be the same or work well everywhere just because it does for our own dept. We do need to accept that fact and respect that everyone does things just a little differently and thats ok.

Stay safe!

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